When Nissan rolled out its second-generation Titan pickup at last year's Detroit auto show, the intro video cooed: "When you see the front of this truck, you know something big is lurking under the hood."
The "Check out our bulge!" tagline has become de rigueur, the light-truck equivalent of glam rock stars stuffing cucumbers into their jeans. Brent Hagan doesn't look like Marc Bolan, but he is Nissan's product planning manager for the Titan and Titan XD. He told me taking the huge-grille-big-hood play from the American light-truck manufacturers' book was intentional.
"This truck is made to look very masculine, very strong, very rugged and also very American," Hagan says. "We hear a lot of people say it looks like other manufacturer's trucks, but with a truck palette, there's only so much you can do with styling. It's got a hood, it's got a cab and it's got a bed."
Though it does, at first glance, look more than a little like a Ford F-150, the Nissan Titan XD is something different behind the wheel. Even in upscale PRO-4X trim, the interior felt like a giant Rubbermaid container. That's not a bad thing, necessarily; it promotes a sense that this truck was designed with utility in mind. Leather and wood is fine, but it's nice to not worry about getting sand on the floor or dog hair on the seats. The Titan interior is spacious and comfortable. That's good enough.
But with so many other capable full-size trucks on the market, why a Titan? To hear Hagan tell it, Nissan hopes to appeal to buyers who can't decide between the typical half- and three-quarter-ton rigs.
"We thought it was a great opportunity to fit in between; to build something that has more towing capability than a typical half-ton truck, and better ride quality and fuel economy than the three-quarter-ton models," he said. "This one's for Goldilocks; it's just right."
It also comes with a fantastic, 5-liter turbodiesel V8 engine that, before now, was available only in medium-duty trucks, buses, or marine applications. The Cummins badge is good enough for most people, but I like to consider the fact that this mill: (1.) Is tried-and-true in harsh-use scenarios, and, (2.) Will have good parts availability after the truck's warranty runs out. For something that cranks out 555 pound-feet of torque, it gets decent mileage, too; without any hyper-miling techniques, the Titan returned better than 17 mpg during a New York-to-North Carolina road trip.
Whether customers will to be led into the market niche Nissan has carved out remains to be seen. But the diesel Titan stands as a capable, comfortable hauler that can gobble up highway miles without killing you on fuel economy. Even in North Carolina's Outer Banks, where huge trucks gather like moths to a lampshade, the XD got a few "naaahss truhck, mayne" from salty locals. Burpless, anybody?
NISSAN TITAN XD PRO-4X
POWERTRAIN: 5.0-liter turbodiesel V8; 310 hp, 555 lb-ft. torque; AWD, 6-speed auto
TOWING CAPACITY: 12,314 lbs
SALTY DOG COOL FACTOR: 7/10